Wednesday, April 1, 2009


The digital archive at the University of Southern California provides online access to both internal and external archival resources. This seems to be a large-scale project, containing large volumes of digital resources, and several partner agencies (including other libraries, newspapers, museums and historical societies). The central purpose of the collection is to document regional history. Though there is no specific selection criteria available, the “about” page does communicate a focus on materials that document “the Southern California Region, the Western United States and the Pacific Rim.” Collection materials are traditional archival forms, including photos, film, audio recordings, maps, documents, and artifacts.

Each digital image contains individual metadata, including some basic information (creator, title, source, description etc.) and also some information about the digital object. Photographic items, for example, receive a digital identifier, and information about access restrictions and terms of use. One particularly interesting feature of the metadata is a section about “provenance,” which pertains not to the digital image, but to the physical object. Nonetheless, this seems like an attempt to retain the object’s archival value even if it is just a mention and link to the larger collection.

The digital image is not easily manipulated. The only access feature is the enlargement or magnifier. However, images can be printed, e-mailed or added to a personalized “selection” folder. Additionally, the images can be browsed in multiple ways, which enhances the quality of the collection. For example, patrons can access “featured content,” or browse geographically. The introductory page also has an inviting slideshow of apparently random images.

The “about” page does make a reference to the collection’s potential audience, stating: “broad public access to a wide range of historical and cultural documents that provides maximum access to relevant, authoritative, and scholarly resources. It also allows individuals to pursue learning at their own personal levels of interest, ability and desire.” It seems the emphasis is on both an academic and public audience.

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